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The Do’s & Don’ts of Stretching for a Workout

The rules and warnings about stretching are all over the map. Here’s what you need to know…

One of the most crucial parts of your workout is the cool-down stretch. Stretching keeps your connective tissues elastic. It also helps your body flush out the lactic acid that accumulates in your muscles after exercise—the same lactic acid that contributes to aches and pain. Finally, stretching improves the range of motion in your joints and muscles and helps relieve stress and prevent injury.

Stretching is especially important as you get older. Our joints tend to lose some of their flexibility, but this tendency can be combated by regular stretching. The younger you are when you start stretching, the move flexible you’ll be as you get older. Static stretches are a classic way to enhance flexibility. These stretches are a slow, gradual, and controlled elongation that brings muscles through the full range of motion. Hold them for fifteen to thirty seconds in the furthest comfortable position, without pain.

Proper Stretching Tips

  • Stretch your muscles when they are warm, not cold. After cardio activity is a good idea because your large muscles are warm and flexible.
  • Focus on the muscle you’re stretching.
  • Breathe deeply while you stretch. If you inhale as you begin your stretch,  you’ll find that your muscles extend comfortably even further. For stretches that require you to bend forward, exhale as you bend forward and inhale slowly as you hold the stretch.
  • Move into the stretch until you feel a slight tension, but no pain. The stretch should feel good, even if your muscle feels slightly achy.
  • Hold the stretch for ten to thirty seconds. If you are a beginner or have rarely stretched before, start with ten seconds and gradually increase to thirty seconds.
  • Release the stretch slowly. Never bounce or jerk out of the stretch- that can trigger the stretch reflex, which causes the muscle to tighten, rather than relax, to protect itself from injury.

Adapted from The Fat Flush Fitness Plan

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